Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Erica Newell Joins The Female Reggae Movement

Written by Stan Evan Smith

Erica Newell has been part of the new female movement in Jamaican music. After years of being the back trio with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers as two plus one (Sharon & Cedella Marley), she is currently is launching a solo career and recording her solo album. Jamaicans.com senior writer Stan Evan Smith spoke to Erical.Za, is launching a solo career

SS.How long have you been singing professionally?

EN: Years…. Since I was 15.

SS: Who was your major music influences growing up in Jamaica, both internationally and locally?

EN: I grew up in a strict Christian home. Other than my family members & and the church folk. I only listened to Mahalia Jackson, Jim Reeves and a country & western Gospel group called the Chapel Singers. As I got older I used to sneak & listen to the radio. I idolized Pam Hall, Denise Williams & Judy Mowatt. Later, I got into many other singers, Patti Labelle, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, Jennifer Holiday, Shirley Murdock, Chaka Kahn, Beres Hammond….. You name it. If they could sing, I was hooked.

SS: How would you describe your music, which genre best describes your sound?

EN: My sound is from the heart. If I could feel it, I sing it. I’ve performed in all genres of music, from Afrikaan to Hip Hop. I love it all. My album will be a reggae album, but it will have tinges of everything.

SS: You were one third of 2+1, the backup trio for Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers for a long time, have you decided to go solo, or are this album just solo project? This album is a solo project.

EN: The Melody Makers haven’t worked in a few years and I figured no time than now to do an album.

SS: Are you still with Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers or is that situation over?

EN: We are still in touch with each other. They’re my extended family. We’re all still cool. Whenever they’re ready to work again, they know I’ll be there. In the meantime, I’m pursuing my solo project.

SS: What kinds of support are getting on this solo project?

EN: As far as financially, just me & God. Through God though all things are possible. The whole “musician family” has been wonderful and have been there for me. I started 2 years ago. It’s taking a while, but why complain? I’m blessed!

SS: Do find it difficult to be on your own?

EN: It’s not easy, but I figured it’s either you sink or swim and as they say here in the dirty south ” I ain’t fittin’ ta drown”. It’s all good though. I love working from the grass roots up. I’m learning a lot.

SS: Describe what it is like being a female in reggae, how were you treated?

EN: I’ve been fortunate, for the most part, to have gotten a lot of love & respect over the years. I’ve always wished that there were more women singers taking front page. For some reason, we’re not up there as much. It’s a shame; there are some wicked female reggae singers. I guess it’s not easy as most of us are moms & wives and have to fulfill our motherly duties. It can be a heck of a juggle, but anything is possible if you really want it to be.

SS: What are some of the challenges you expect to face as a solo artist?

The responsibility of making sure that everything runs smooth and that everything is in place is on you the solo artist.

SS: despite the fact that things are improving Radio, TV and the concert stage offer the female artist limited opportunities compared to their male peers in reggae, how do plan to deal with this?

EN: I didn’t even notice that yet. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I’m just going forward in a positive light though. I come too far to turn back now.

SS: What are some of the things you think you have to do to make it as solo female in the break into the industry or succeed?

EN: As we all know, whether you’re man or woman, black or white…The good old dollar goes a long way in breaking you into the industry. For those of us women who are not as fortunate to have the good old dollar behind us. I say keep working hard. Dedicate your self. Keep your dignity and definitely don’t give up. It pays off in the long run. It might take a little while longer, but it will definitely pay off.

SS: What is the biggest obstacle you think you will face as female artist?

EN: Too soon to tell. Hopefully it won’t be too bad. Either way, I’ve already faced unbelievable challenges in my personal life and made it through. It would have to be something supernatural to break me.

SS: Do promoters shy away from booking female artists, if so why do you think this is?

EN: Haven’t really experienced that. However I had a very unfortunate experience with a promoter recently. The whole experience was new to me. He had other intentions of working with me in a different way….. The whole thing got nasty and in the end, I kindly asked him to keep his show.

SS: When is your album expected to be completed?

EN: Hopefully by spring of next year.

SS. Who are the musicians and producers working on it?

EN: To name a few: Dean Fraser, Sticky Thompson, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Christopher Meredith, Squiddly Cole, Carroll “Bowie” McLaughlin, Robby Lynn, Sly Dunbar, Ian “Beezy” Coleman, Kneah Francois, Ryan Wilson, Errol Moore, Omar Webster, Neville Scott….. On backing vocals, Pam Hall, Ken Bob, Sharon Marley…Too many to mention.

SS.You have done solo work on Tony Green’s album, are there any other solo projects you have worked on, if so could you list them?

EN: Off the top of my head. I can’t even remember. I’m sure there are a few. The truth is, I was always contented just singing in the background.

SS: What do you see as your biggest challenge moving from aback up situation to a solo artist?

EN: Even though a lot of people know me, they know me from a group stand point. The challenge as an independent artist is to get to that fan base and let them know that I am here and that I am doing my album. Myspace has been phenomenal though. I’ve been getting a lot of love.

SS: What are your professional goals as singer?

EN: To reach the masses.

SS: Thank you Erica and much success.

EN: Thank you too for taking the time out to interview me even though I didn’t have a song on the top 10 charts. That speaks a lot of you as a person and as a journalist. Nuff respect!

Stan Evan Smith is staff writer for JahWorks.org. NA Gleaner contributing writer, Everybody’s magazine and Westindiantimes.net. He can be reached stansmith [email protected], http://www.myspace.com/stanwsmith

About the author

Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com